I woke up around 1AM on Sunday night and stumbled out towards the living room, where I found Kendrick setting the alarm and getting ready to come to bed. “Hey,” he said. “Why are you up?”
I pointed at our son’s closed bedroom door. “I wanted to go lay down with him,” I said.
Then I said what I actually meant. “I feel like he’s slipping away from me.”
This is a very dramatic declaration to make about your five-year-old, I admit. I’m going to blame that (and the subsequent tears) on the fact that it was the middle of the night, and it’s in the middle of the night that I’m most prone to episodes where I suddenly shoot out of bed, heartbroken out of nowhere by the fact that my children seem to have grown another year older without me noticing. But it also wasn’t entirely unfounded. It’s something that’s been on my mind for three years now, ever since the day I woke up and realized that my role in my first child’s life had changed into something I hadn’t seen coming.
So often, it feels like everything Indy loves – Star Wars, superheroes, video games, even certain types of music – are passions he shares with Kendrick. Beyond that: it feels like they’re passions that I’m excluded from simply because they’re so foreign – and often, frankly, not all that interesting – to me. I’ve tried to figure out why this might be, and the best I can come up with is that Kendrick was so excited to get to re-experience the characters who populated his own childhood (Luke Skywalker! Iron Man! Link!), that he just sort of infused the seeds of excitement into our son at an age when he was particularly predisposed. Maybe he couldn’t help it, the same way I can’t help indulging our daughter’s adoration of tiny, fuzzy creatures with even tinier teapots and dinner plates and outfits that can transform (in my mind, and apparently in hers) into the stunningly detailed imaginary worlds I remember from when I was small.
Maybe it’s more innate; maybe Indy just so happens to love the things that his father loved and loves still.
Or maybe – and this is the fear that sends me rocketing out of the deepest sleep – I feel so separated from my son’s passions because they grew during those months and years when Kendrick sat on the floor with him, zooming race cars through chair legs and sending Captain America crashing into Hulk over and over and over. The same months and years when I was bustling through the house with laundry baskets and dinner ingredients, calling out items on the to-do list and following up with insurance companies and picking up Lego after Lego and always, always, always working, because when there’s no office to leave at the end of the day there’s always that temptation to answer just one (ten, fifty) more emails before the day winds to a close.
I feel like I missed my chance to be the mom who gets down on the floor and zooms around cars, and I am afraid that I’m running out of chances to live in my son’s memory as his playmate, not just the rule-maker and the house-straightener and the nag. That night when I woke up at 1AM – just this past Sunday – Kendrick had spent the whole day with him at Comic-Con. I didn’t go because I had stuff I had to do around the house and dragging our daughter through a San Francisco convention center sounded miserable for all involved, but also (mostly) because I had zero interest in going to Comic-Con. When they got back Indy wanted to play Minecraft with Dad, and play War with Dad, and just be with Dad, Dad, Dad. Then the day ended, and my daughter wanted me to snuggle with her and my son still wanted Dad, so we did what we always do: we went to the children who seemed to need – or want – us the most.
It’s the same every night.
My son and my husband adore one another; they are partners in crime. I appreciate and cherish this. I’m also jealous, because I was the first one to look into his eyes, and what I saw was everything to me. It always will be.
That night after Comic-Con I woke up, and for whatever reason it hit me like a fist to the heart: There was a time when I could tick off all of Indy’s most-loved toys without even thinking (John OctoFriend; Graciela the Chicken; Buddy and Scarfcat and an old beat-up Dusty) – and now I sit paralyzed in front of buckets of Bionicle pieces, wondering what mask goes on which skull and what I’m supposed to do with the creature once it’s all assembled besides smash it into another masked skull-thing while grunting “CRUSH-UHHHHH!” (which doesn’t come naturally to me).
My son doesn’t want to play with me. I am boring; I know this.
When I woke up on Sunday night and started thinking about these things, I decided to pick up my phone and go on Facebook to calm me down (because isn’t that what Facebook always does to parents?). Three seconds after finishing an article posted by a friend of mine with the title “We Only Have 18 Summers With Them” (JESUS), I was standing in the hallway in my underwear and in tears, half-convinced that my son was grown and gone already, buried deep under a mountain of Boy Things that I’d never be able to tunnel through. A few minutes after that – after I’d finished crying to Kendrick in the hallway – I crawled into bed next to Indy, and laid there stroking his bangs back from his forehead the way my mom used to stroke my bangs when I was little. I made promises to myself that I already knew I’d break. (Shut down my phone and computer for the first hour after he comes home from school, every single day. Hook in when he asks me to watch how his video game works instead of saying “Wow, cool” and waiting until he stops looking at me so I can turn back to whatever I was doing before. Play with toys in the half-hour leading up to bedtime instead of doing what I want to do, which is switch on the TV so I can stop moving for a second and breathe and read and be whatever it is I am.)
The next morning the sun came up, as it does, and things seemed better again, as they do, but my heart still hurt. And so I decided to actually keep the first promise to myself I’d made laying there in the dark: that day, no matter what, I was going to take my son on a date, just us two. We went to the mall, and he was excited, wanting to know if we were going to buy toys (no), or go to the arcade (maybe afterwards), or maybe see The Nut Job 2 (never ever ever, and I am certain that all of you parents out there are with me on that one). When we finally arrived at our destination – Color Me Mine – I could tell he wasn’t especially psyched, despite the fact that neither of us had ever been there before and neither of us really knew what we were supposed to do.
“It seems kind of…boring,” he said. He didn’t need to tell me he thought that; I already knew.
We walked along the wall, looking at the different pottery pieces we could purchase and then paint, and he skipped over a flower-shaped vase and a massive, featureless mushroom-planter-thing, sighing just a little. Then he saw a ghost figurine. And a motorcycle-shaped piggy bank. And a little jar shaped like Iron Man’s head.
For more than an hour, we sat there next to each other, perched on tiny little Color Me Mine stools, our elbows bumping into each other as we reached across the table for pots of paint and pencils and brushes. “Can I have some of your red for Iron Man’s helmet?” he asked me. I showed him my ghost, and asked him what color its third eyeball should be. We deliberated over the various shades of red and whether we’d need one coat or three to really get that dark metallic look we were going for.
He painted one last stripe down Iron Man’s helmet, and announced that he was finished. “I thought this would be boring,” he said, in that offhand way that kids say things that don’t seem important at all to them but that make your heart heave up into your throat. “It’s really fun, though. Thanks, Mom.”
After that, we raced each other through the mall for awhile, then finally made our way back home, where I sat down and paid attention, listening while he taught me the names of the superheroes we can paint next time.